§ MR. ADDERLEY
said, he wished to take the opportunity of bringing under the attention of the Government a subject which he thought of considerable importance in connection with the prosecution of the war. There were in the Government prisons of England some 10,000 convicts under sentence of transportation for long periods, and an addition was made to this number at the rate of about 4,000 a year. There were also nearly 2,000 convicts turned out upon the country every year with what were rather significantly called "orders of licence," and, however willing these men might be to work, they were almost invariably unable to obtain employment. He thought the present war afforded an opportunity of solving the difficulty which had occurred with reference to the disposal of men of this class. These convicts had, while in prison, become accustomed to an almost military discipline, many of them were capable of great physical labour, and they were by no means the worst criminals in the country, but were, perhaps, the least degraded of any class of criminals. They were, by all accounts, not habitual thieves, but men of ungoverned temper driven by violent impulse into various outrages. He need scarcely remind the House, on the other hand, that our gallant soldiers in the Crimea were compelled to undertake most severe labour of all kinds, which he considered they ought not to be called upon to perform. The choicest troops of England were forced to perform fatigue duties, such as never ought to be thrown upon them, and even the Guards had been required to clean out cesspools. When ablebodied men were turned out of our prisons, at the rate of 150 a month, with, so called "orders of licence" but without the means of employment, and when our soldiers were overtasked with labour unfit for the troops, but which these convicts were well able to perform, he wished to ask why the convicts who were considered eligible for orders of licence might not have the option of enlisting for a limited time, in commutation of the remainder of their sentences, for the particular description of service to which he had 133 referred? He would not enter into details as to the organisation of such a body, but he would suggest that their dress or uniform should not be military; that they should be embodied distinctly as a labour corps; that they should be paid, as in prison, for taskwork; that a portion of their pay should be kept back until their terms of service had expired; that they should receive gratuities for good conduct in the same manner as in prison; and that they should have one commissioned officer to each company, and sergeants selected from the warders under whose supervision they were placed while in prison. He believed that 1,500 men of this description would be at once available, who might be formed into ten or twelve companies of 120 men each. He had consulted several gentlemen on this subject, whose opinions were entitled to great weight, including officers of the convict department, governors of various prisons, and some of the inspectors of prisons, and they all had expressed their approval of the suggestion, one of the gentlemen to whom he referred having stated his readiness to take the command of the corps. He (Mr. Adderley) had also mentioned the matter to some of the leading military authorities, including Lord Hardinge, Sir John Burgoyne, and Lord Panmure, and they deemed the proposition one which deserved consideration. Indeed he had been informed by Lord Panmure that he would submit the proposition to Lord Raglan for his opinion. The only misgiving in the minds of the military authorities was as to the way in which men embodied in such a service might be looked upon by our soldiers in the Crimea. It was said it was doubtful whether our army would look upon them with great dislike and disgust, or whether they would be very well satisfied with the aid they derived from such a body. Even if the army should look upon such a body of men with some disgust, he did not think any bad result could be anticipated, while, if the army found them an available and useful body of servants, who undertook hard work to the relief of the soldiers, he thought the plan would be regarded with satisfaction. He would remind the House that in the French army a similar body had been organised for some time past, and had been found of very material service. He saw by what took place yesterday in another place that an additional number of navvies were to be sent out to the Crimea; but he thought it was very 134 doubtful whether this scheme would be successful, and there were many reasons why navvies were not so likely to be serviceable as the class of persons to whom he had been referring. They would have high pay, they were not so well disciplined as the convicts, and would not be so easily brought under military control. The discipline which convicts underwent would make them a good force for the kind of service required; but the navvies had received no training, and there was nothing in their habits and customs that could render them at all a satisfactory body for the Commander in Chief to deal with. High military authority was already expressed against such civilian adjuncts to the army. He understood that it was not intended to arm these navvies, though they were to be employed in the trenches; and therefore the soldiers, in addition to their other duties, would have imposed upon them the task of guarding the navvies. In every respect he thought convicts would be superior to this class, and he believed that had their services been employed twelve months ago many valuable lives would have been saved. If it was determined that convicts were not to be employed in any way, it would become a serious question what was to be done with them—the country is at this moment in terror of their mode of being turned loose—and perhaps the House might yet have to regret that so good an opportunity as the present, of trying an experiment that might turn out to be a permanent resource for the country, had not been taken advantage of.
§ MR. J. O'CONNELL
said, he regretted that the hon. Member (Mr. Adderley) had not submitted his proposition on an occasion when it might have been more deliberately discussed. He regretted also the remarks which had fallen from an hon. Gentleman with respect to the state of feeling which it was said existed between the south and the north of Ireland. Even if a bad feeling did exist there, he thought that it ought not to have been alluded to in that House. The very mention of such a thing was bad. He knew a good deal of his fellow-countrymen, and he could say for the southern portion of the inhabitants of Ireland, that they had not that aversion to the northern districts which was imputed to them by the hon. Gentleman. He confidently believed that when his fellow-countrymen were called upon to act in defence of their country, their only thought would be how they could best defend 135 her honour and interests. If the men would only follow the example of their officers, he was sure that such would be their conduct. He had the honour of being attached to an Irish militia regiment, the majority of whose officers differed from him both in politics and religion, and yet there never had arisen the slightest difference between them. The difficulty of recruiting for the militia was becoming more difficult every day, and several remedies had been proposed to lessen the difficulty. He believed that that would be materially effected by paying the larger portion of the bounty to the recruits as soon as they joined the service, instead of doling it out as now in small instalments. In the first place, that system of doles made the men fancy that tricks had been played with them, and they gave a bad report of the service to their friends who were thereby prejudiced against the militia. From the experience which he had had of the militia, he believed that the very best plan that the Government could adopt with regard to the payment of the bounty was, to pay the whole of it to the recruit as soon as he entered the service. Eight out of every ten of the militiamen that had come from his district sent their bounty at once to their parents and friends, whereas, when only doles were given to them from time to time, they spent it in the drunken habits which they learned from the bad example of ill-conducted men who entered into the service, and their parents and friends were thus deprived of the benefit of their bounty. With regard to the very important point as to militiamen volunteering into the line, he must say that he thought the difficulty of obtaining such volunteers was owing to the disorganised state of the militia regiments during the eight or ten days in which the men had to consider whether they would volunteer into the army. Lord Panmure had strongly deprecated the break-up of their discipline during these eight or ten days, which he said was without doubt very mischievous to the service. And yet that system still continued. He (Mr. J. O'Connell) must speak with diffidence on this subject, as he had had only three months' experience in the militia; but as far as he could judge, nothing was more calculated to do mischief to the service than that break-up of organisation in the militia regiments at the end of their period of service, when the young men were to be seen reeling through the streets in a state of drunkenness.
said, he most cordially approved of the hon. Member's (Mr. J. O'Connell's) deprecation of the differences which were alleged to exist between the men of the south and west, and those of the north of Ireland. It would certainly be a great disgrace to them if such differences existed; but he had not seen any such differences. He was happy to say that he was acquainted with some Irish militia regiments in which were Protestants and Roman Catholics from various districts of Ireland, who lived together in the most perfect harmony, as if they came from the same town. He had not the slightest fear of such disputes as had been alluded to by an hon. Gentleman. The avoidance of such disputes depended upon the officers, and he was sure that they would not encourage them. The hon. Member for Kerry (Mr. H. Herbert) had spoken of two militia officers who had quarrelled at an inn, but he omitted to state at what hour of the night that quarrel took place. With regard to the question of the payment of the bounty, he concurred with the hon. Member for Clonmel in thinking that its payment in doles tended to diminish enlistment. He must also complain of the manner in which the embarkation of troops and stores was still conducted. The other day when a troop of artillery was embarked, it was found after the guns were on board, that the horses could not be taken in, and if the horses were taken, their harness could not be. These things occurred every day, and yet there could not be a more useful or efficient department than the Board of Ordnance, if properly worked. He did not impute to the Government a want of anxiety with respect to the management of the war, but accidents had occurred with respect to it which proper care and foresight must have prevented. He likewise considered that the whole system of recruiting for our army was bad. We were enlisting boys of sixteen and eighteen years of age, who were totally unfit for active service in the Crimea—and yet they were sent out to fight against the veterans of Russia. But when they reached the Crimea they were sent to the hospital and to their graves. The work in the trenches soon terminated their existence. He had spoken to officers who had returned from the Crimea, and they assured him that those young men and boys were a nuisance instead of a service to the army, and that it would be far better to send out a few 137 efficient men than multitudes of undisciplined and inexperienced boys. We could not at this moment procure men who were sufficiently trained to undergo a campaign in the Crimea. They might talk of enlisting a foreign legion, but the men forming such a legion would have to be drilled and disciplined for some time in this country before they could be fit to join the army in the Crimea. It was said you have got a Turkish legion; but every one who was acquainted with Turkey, and with the habits of the Albanians, must know that they would never make good soldiers, and that they were nothing but rubbish. The Osmanli would not enlist into our service—it would be repugnant to his habits to do so. He saw no probability of our army being efficiently recruited under the present system. Until better pay was given to our cavalry, we certainly need not expect to obtain an efficient cavalry force. Some measure must be taken by the Government to increase the pay of the cavalry, if they wished to carry on the war with vigour. He did not think that the army could be recruited from the convict prisons, as had been proposed by the hon. Member for North Staffordshire (Mr. Adderley). That hon. Gentleman had no doubt quoted high authorities in support of his proposition, but he (Colonel Dunne) wished to know what officer would employ convicts with armies either in the Crimea or elsewhere? It would be necessary to employ a large force to prevent convicts from deserting. Suppose convicts were employed in the trenches, did any one suppose that they would not desert to the enemy on the first opportunity that might present itself, and then our plans would be revealed to our foes. Nothing but the constant terror of the bullet or bayonet would prevent such men from deserting and betraying us. He sincerely hoped, therefore, that the Government would not agree to the proposition of the hon. Gentleman.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, the desultory debate which had taken place upon this subject was a good illustration of the extreme inconvenience of Members bringing important matters under the consideration of the House on the Motion for its adjournment until Monday. He would confine himself to two or three observations, as the subject had not been brought before the House in a formal manner. The hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Adderley) seemed to have overlooked the fact that there were two classes of convicts—namely, 138 those who were undergoing penal servitude for a period of two, three, or four years, and who, during the whole period of the term for which they had been sentenced, were either undergoing punishment in prison, or employed in the public works of this country, and those who had been sentenced to transportation, but whose sentences could not be carried into immediate effect. After they had passed a portion of their term of punishment in prison, letters of licence were given to them, which corresponded with the tickets of leave granted in the colonies. The convicts referred to by the hon. Gentleman belonged to the former class, who were sentenced to short periods of penal servitude; and he (Sir G. Grey) thought it would be most dangerous to hold out to them any hope that after they had undergone eighteen months of penal servitude, they should, irrespective of the crimes of which they had been convicted, and of the length of servitude to which they had been sentenced, have the opportunity of enlisting into the service of the army. Irrespective of any considerations as to the effect which such enlistment would have upon the army, he thought that the holding out of such an inducement would greatly diminish the terror which punishment exercised over the evilly disposed members of the community. If the proposition of the hon. Gentleman were carried into effect, the sentences of the Judges would be considered to be only nominal, as the party sentenced would feel that, if he only observed the prison rules—no matter how long the period he was sentenced to—for eighteen months, he would have an opportunity of enlisting into the army. With regard, however, to the other class, who, after having undergone a considerable portion of their sentence, had obtained letters of licence, he thought the case was very different. That class of persons, when they had obtained letters of licence, would be permitted to return to society, and to work for an honest living. He thought it would be desirable to encourage them to enter upon an honest occupation, and if nothing had been publicly said on this subject, it might have bee desirable secretly to facilitate the employment of some of those convicts, mixed up with other persons, in works connected with the military operations; but it would be a dangerous proceeding, on account of the feelings it would excite, to make a distinct corps of them, and necessarily a military corps, because they must form part of the army, be disciplined under the Mutiny 139 Act, and officered by gentlemen holding Her Majesty's commission. Such a proposition Lord Panmure had informed him could not be entertained. With respect to the employment of that useful class of persons commonly called "navvies," of course the same objection did not exist. Their labours in the construction of the railway in the Crimea had shown them to be a most efficient body of men, and they would be found serviceable, no doubt, in relieving the army from work not wholly of a military character.
§ MR. SPEAKER
Before any other hon. Member rises to speak, I think it right to state that Orders of the Day have precedence of Motions on Friday, and that for the last three hours the House has been discussing questions founded on a Motion which must be withdrawn, inasmuch as the House must meet to-morrow, as there is then to be a Royal Assent by Commission.
§ MR. MONSELL
said, the Board of Ordnance were in no degree responsible for anything that had occurred in regard to the embarkation of the artillery force. It was true, as stated by the hon. and gallant Member for Portarlington (Colonel Dunne) that the Candia was appointed to take out a certain number of artillery horses, and when she arrived at Woolwich the horses, men, and, in fact, everything was ready for embarkation. The captain of the Candia, however, gave it as his decided opinion that if the number of horses were placed on the deck of the Candia that had been appointed to be placed there, it would be attended with considerable danger, and therefore, he strongly recommended that nothing of the sort should be done. He thought the artillery officers exercised a wise discretion in communicating that danger to the Transport Board, but the Ordnance had not the slightest responsibility in the matter. Adverting to another point which had been touched upon, namely, the tents sent out to the Crimea, he could state that 2,000 had already been sent out, while 1,000 were now ready for embarkation, but at the request of the Commander in Chief, they were single tents, in order to save weight.
§ Motion for adjournment by leave withdrawn.